I’m not sure exactly what drew me to beg for tickets to see Noël Coward’s Private Lives this September, maybe it was the excellent BBC4 biopic Burton and Taylor about the infamous actors’ final stage-play together, the inter-war period in which the drama is set, or that from its first night the play and its lead actors had received rave reviews. Either way, by the time I arrived at the doors to The Gielgud Theater on Tuesday night I was dizzy with excitement.
Noël Coward’s most famous work follows the path of divorcees Elyot and Amanda as they fall in love again over the balcony on their honeymoons. The only problem – they’ve both married other people. From the moment their eyes meet the electrifying chemistry between Anna Chancellor (Amanda) and Toby Stevens (Elyot), take a hold of the play and is relentless in its grasp. Although the cut-glass accents and aging comedy may add to the drama of the play, this can at times detract from the real examination in the play. That they are a couple who cannot live with, or without one another.
As refined as they both are Amanda and Elyot encapsulate the 1930’s desperation to escape the kind of bourgeois gentility their age and class dictated. Amid the comic wit, the actors convey a real sense of torment about how they feel for one another. Chancellor’s flighty Amanda has just the right amount of audacious sass to match the depth of love for her ex-husband, and this is matched by Stevens’ public-school boy charm and pre-war arrogance, all of which his ex-wife can see straight through.
The theatrical canon is full of warring couples and Private Lives has been for many years the twentieth century’s finest expression of this theme, but Jonathan Kent’s production brings it up to date with ease. The play is choreographed beautifully, the fight scenes between the lead actors allow their chemistry to smoulder. The perfect final act sees them receive their respective spouses into their Parisian love nest, Chancellor adopts a hilarious diplomacy as she serves coffee to the two people who’s lives she has ruined.
Private Lives more than echoes many similar works of the age, and I think at this point in time, the 1930’s setting pulls on your nostalgic heartstrings, the age of wealth and bohemian sensibility is captured perfectly and with ease. Much like another favourite of mine, Brideshead, Private Lives is often revisited, and this time it’s spectacular. GO!
Until 21st September 2013